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MT Legislators Meet to Finalize Proposed Changes to Rape Laws

A legislative committee meets today to finalize proposed changes to rape laws in Montana. (KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStockphoto)
A legislative committee meets today to finalize proposed changes to rape laws in Montana. (KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStockphoto)
August 22, 2016

HELENA, Mont. - Montana lawmakers will meet Monday in Helena to finalize changes to proposed state laws on crimes involving sexual violence - bills that could then be introduced in the 2017 legislative session.

The Montana Law and Justice Interim Committee reviewed the latest drafts of six bills. One declares that consent cannot be inferred from the way a victim is dressed or whether the victim is dating the accused. It would also clarify consent to mean words or overt actions indicating agreement, and remove the requirement for use of force in the definition of rape.

Robin Turner, public policy and legal director with the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, explained that some victims are passive.

"While some people may be able to fight off the person who's assaulting them, other people freeze, or they were incapacitated,” Turner said. "And so, this definition of consent and this evolution will help prosecutors charge cases where it doesn't appear on-face that there was force."

Another proposed law would remove the requirement to register as a sex offender for someone convicted of statutory rape if the victim was over 14, the accused is over 18, and the conduct was consensual. But sex with a minor over age 14 would still remain a crime, punishable by five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Caitlin Borgmann, executive director with the Montana American Civil Liberties Union, said legally, it’s harmful to criminalize consensual sex between teenagers.

"Our view is that there should be an exception to statutory rape for consensual sex, where at least one of the participants is a teenager and the age difference between the two is three years or less,” Borgmann said.

Another of the proposed laws would make it a crime to disseminate nude photos or video if they were created without a person's consent.

A final bill would allow a rape victim who conceives a child from the attack to sue to terminate the parental rights of the accused rapist in civil court, even without a criminal conviction.

Proposal to change rape definition (LCLJ01) is here: http://pnsne.ws/2bmA1QR. Sex offender registry proposal (LCLJ03) is here: http://pnsne.ws/2b7sm9V. Proposal about disseminating photos (LCLJ2B) is here: http://pnsne.ws/2b9bD4B.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MT